This Part One of a two-part series exploring what it’s like for college athletes and compliance officers as legal sports betting expands across the U.S.
In an effort to share with readers what it’s like inside big-time athletic programs across the country, roughly 18 months after the Supreme Court ruling in Murphy v NCAA opened the door for legal sports betting across the country, Sports Handle contacted nearly a dozen universities, big and small. Some of these universities have taken steps beyond state law and now prohibit sports betting on their campuses, while others are trying to find new ways to educate student-athletes. Of these dozen schools, only three agreed to interviews with compliance officers and only one, Cal State Fullerton, agreed to let a student-athlete share views about sports betting and compliance.
Several schools replied to inquires saying it is school policy not to discuss sports betting. Others didn’t reply at all. What all of that indicates is that sports betting, a long-prohibited and still forbidden activity for student-athletes, remains controversial. Those who were willing to talk about sports betting did so freely and openly and with great enthusiasm about how to best protect their athletes from potential scandal.
In the last year, three universities have instituted policies on their campuses that prohibit faculty, staff, students and contractors from placing bets on university athletics. Most recently, Purdue became the first public school to prohibit sports betting by just about anyone currently tied to the university. The policy was put in place quickly as school administrators and faculty seek ways to shield athletic programs, as sports wagering is now legal in Indiana.
Universities want to protect student-athletes
At about the same time, St. Joseph’s a private, Jesuit school in Philadelphia updated its student handbook forbidding students, faculty, staff, contractors, and members of the Board of Trustees from placing “an otherwise legal sports wager on any team, contest or event, or individual affiliated with the Saint Joseph’s University Department of Athletics.”
Though representatives from St. Joseph’s declined to be interviewed for this story, Jack Jumper, director of athletic communications, did provide Sports Handle with the following statement:
“The sports wagering policy reflects Saint Joseph’s University’s commitment to fostering a strong community that encourages all members to support one another in achieving personal, academic and spiritual growth. Wagering on the performance of Saint Joseph’s student-athletes and coaches runs contrary to our values and sense of community.
“As sports betting is now legal in the tri-state area — Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — we proactively implemented a new policy.”
Villanova, which won NCAA national basketball championships in 2018 and 2016, was the first school to implement a “don’t-bet-on-the-home-team” policy, when it did so in November 2018, with little public notice. Villanova’s policy is clear that anyone doing business with or attending Villanova may not bet on Wildcat sports, and that doing so could result in termination or the loss of a scholarship.
NCAA opposition still stands
Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down in May 2018, 17 states have legalized or launched live sports betting outside of Nevada. Among those with live sports betting are Indiana, Iowa and Pennsylvania, home to multiple big-time college football teams, including Iowa, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Purdue, as well as high-profile basketball teams including Butler, Indiana, Indiana State, Iowa, Iowa State, Valparaiso, Iowa and Villanova.
As an organization, the NCAA has long been opposed to sports betting — legal or not — and it further prohibits student-athletes from betting on any sport — professional or amateur — that the NCAA “conducts a collegiate championship in.” The association itself is now pushing for federal regulation of sports wagering.
Those lobbying for legal sports betting would argue that prohibiting any kind of sports betting in a legal environment merely opens the door for the unregulated, unchecked, black market sportsbooks to thrive. But universities are responding to what they view as a very real problem.
Athlete shares views
Dillon Brown, a senior pitcher at Cal State Fullerton, whose brother plays football at Alabama, offered a window into the impact of sports betting on the everyday life of a college athlete. Fullerton has won four College World Series titles, and is a regular at the College World Series in Omaha. Among the most well-known Fullerton grads in the Majors in 2019 were Kurt Suzuki, whose Washington Nationals won the World Series last month, and Dodger Justin Turner, winner of the NL MVP Award and an All-Star in 2017.
Brown isn’t in the same sort of spotlight as Suzuki, Turner or his little brother is these days, but even in a state where sports betting isn’t likely to be legalized soon, he’s not only aware of sports betting, but he’s changed how he interacts with others and sometimes monitors what information he shares because the idea of even being suspected of being involved with sports betting could change his life. Brown’s brother Tommy is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman at Alabama. Both are graduates of California’s Mater Dei High School. Brown’s Titans last got to the College World Series in 2017, his freshman season. Here’s what Dillon Brown had to say:
SH: So, what’s it like for you?
DB: I am the oldest of three boys, and my middle brother actually plays football at Alabama. It’s interesting because I mean, being a baseball player at Fullerton, you don’t really, I don’t really notice the sports betting aspect of it. I know, like, following my brother, oh, the [point] spread of the game and all of that stuff matters, and I get that. … Watching SportsCenter, you see it more and more now. As a freshman, I didn’t really notice it. The first time I really did notice that stuff is when we made it to Omaha and the FBI talked to us. They were like, ‘if people ask you any questions, like how is this person doing?’ just say ‘the team is doing fine,’ and I was like, ‘Why would anyone even care?’ But that’s the sports betting aspect of all of it.
SH: What did the FBI talk about, can you offer any examples?
DB: It was like the first or second day we were there, and we were at the hotel in one of those regular rooms that we have our meetings in, and two or three agents came in to talk to us about the importance of safety and if something ever were to happen, even at the event, and then they started talking about the sports betting part of it, where they are like, ‘If you don’t know someone, don’t talk to them,’ kind of thing. And even your family members or anything like that, don’t give any information that you wouldn’t tell, don’t leak, not leak, but just don’t give any information that you think someone outside the locker room shouldn’t have.
SH: Do you feel like you can’t talk to anybody about what is going on in your life?
DB: I mean, they say that, but I still, I’ll talk to my parents and tell them everything that is going on, and I know my parents are there not because they want information, but because they are my parents, they’re just another person I can talk to and I don’t have to think about baseball, it’s just, I trust them. They are there and they are going to help me get through issues. It’s not the gossipy side of things, but just if I have something on my mind, then I know I can talk to them and I don’t have to worry about any implications, like ‘oh, I’m not supposed to be talking about any stuff outside the locker room, but it’s my dad and mom, and those are people who I still trust.’ But I am not going to, even with friends, I think about it because I know with all of these fantasy sports leagues and like how it easy it is to bet online, that kind of stuff is crazy nowadays, and I just try to stay out of it all. For baseball, I don’t think anyone is trying to bet on collegiate baseball, but when I think about my brother and stuff, it’s a whole different story.
SH: What’s it like when you go to Alabama?
DB: My brother will tell me stuff, but I know that he’s telling me because he trusts me, and I’m not betting on anything. I know they have to go through a lot of training, even compliance meetings with my parents and stuff like that, and every single time we visit there, we have to meet with compliance (officers). At the tailgate (for families) the head compliance person will always come by and let us know outside people coming into the tailgate. It’s kind of interesting, being the brother and not having to worry about being the student-athlete, it’s kind of interesting to see. I know compliance as an athlete is different than on the family side.
SH: How much is this making you grow up faster? Are you more wary of people?
DB: I think about it more as I am older now, as a junior and a sophomore, I played a lot more than I did as a freshman. … There’s not that many people I’m talking to outside my circle because I’m doing baseball, going to school, and I have a girlfriend who goes to San Diego State, so I go see her sometimes. It’s not like I am at the bar, or something where I’m emphasizing that I know this person or that person or look at all of this information that I have. I’m just trying to live a regular life, when I go out, I am not trying to emphasize at all, ‘Oh, my brother plays at ‘Bama or oh, I play at Cal State Fullerton or I know, you should bet on this or you should bet on that.’ That doesn’t even come to my mind. I’m just trying to live a normal life. With the whole California legislative thing, now with paying athletes (CA recently made it legal for college athletes to be paid for using their likenesses) made me think about it a lot more, too.
SH: You play in states where sports betting is legal, is it something that interests you? Would you want to go bet?
DB: We’re going Vegas, like I don’t feel feel like I’m missing out if I can bet on sports. I mean, I can go play blackjack, that’s totally legal, and I’d rather do that, I like playing Texas Hold’em, but I know I’m not missing out.
SH: Do you guys talk about that as a team, that you can’t bet sports, but you’re in Vegas?
DB: We played UNLV my freshman year, at their place, and we definitely talked about it, like, ‘stay away from sportsbooks, stay away from all that stuff.’ We definitely emphasized all of that, I mean, you have to be 21 to bet, anyway. We definitely know that we are not allowed to, but I mean, no one is doing it because there are other things you can do, if you have that urge. I know a lot of our guys like playing blackjack. No one is talking about sports betting at all.
SH: Have you been in a situation where you have known about someone who is thinking about sports betting or who did?
DB: Not with us specifically, but I’ve played summer ball with guys from different universities there are definitely guys at different schools, that I am like, ‘wow, you guys do that there?’ I like summer ball because I get to be somewhere I would never go if I didn’t do that, and I get to play with guys I would never play with, if it wasn’t for that. And I am not trying to call guys out for that, but it is interesting to hear stories about how it’s OK at some places. But that would never happen where I’m from. Or like, not into sports gambling, but things that are OK at some universities.
SH: Temptation during summer ball?
DB: I was in Newport, Rhode Island this past summer, and I know there’s a casino 30 minutes away, but no one talks about, ‘oh, I’m going to place a bet on this game.’ It’s all about the actual gambling side of it where it’s not the (sports) betting side of it.
SH: If there is one thing that concerns you about legal sports betting as an athlete that concerns you, what would it be?
DB: I think it’s just, I don’t like the part of not trusting, like, people using you for insider information. I think that’s what concerns me the most. I have three uncles and I know they sports bet. But we made it like, we’re not going to tell you what’s going on at our university. We have cousins that played DI, one who played football at Cal, who played volleyball and soccer at Notre Dame … we’ve been blessed and lucky, but we’ve made an emphasis to don’t talk about it, just support one another, don’t talk about stuff like that.
SH: Purdue prohibited sports betting … they did it so their athletes could be students first … is there anything that you have thought about the way that you act or if you have a cold, is anybody going to notice that?
DB: No, I don’t think about it at all.
SH: With regards to your brother, do you talk about that part of the experience?
DB: We don’t really talk about, we’ve never had a conversation of ‘I’m going to tell you this, but don’t tell anyone else’ kind of thing. It’s kind of an unspoken thing where we don’t really even have to tell each other. He’s told me some stories, that, well, I can’t tell you, but it’s cool, like he’s my brother and he’s going to tell me that information and we don’t have to worry about that stuff getting out. I want to be a part of that experience with him, but I can’t be at Alabama with him, I can’t be there today, but those kind of stories help me to understand what he’s going through. It’s tough doing what we’re doing here, but I can’t ever imagine what he’s doing there.
Please come back on Monday (11/11) for Part Two: University Compliance Officers: Sports Betting Education Never Ends, and follow Sports Handle on Twitter @sports_handle